eurosport_20It is 20 years since Astra commenced direct to home satellite services to the European market. One of the charter broadcasters at 19 degrees East was Eurosport, initially part of Sky Television’s four-channel package, and since 1991 under the control of the French commercial network TF1.

The latest addition to the Eurosport portfolio is Eurosport HD, which joins the existing international and domestic feeds, Eurosport 2 and Eurosportnews. The HD feed could be described as being in the second wave of such channels, and Jean Thierry Augustin, Eurosport’s MD of distribution and development, admits it was necessary to wait while the market developed. “We had seen BSkyB and other players launch HD two or three years ago, but the packaging was moving very slowly both in terms of content and the number of subscribers.”

jean-thierry-augustinAugustin says he noticed a change one year ago, by when Eurosport had acquired the rights to a significant amount of HD content, while operators were beginning to more aggressively market their HD portfolio. “We discussed it a few times with Sky and we did a lot of good to our brand moving into HD”.

Certainly Eurosport’s launch in the UK market, timed to coincide with HD coverage of the Tour de France, attracted promotions from Sky normally reserved for its own sports portfolio. The Tour de France was followed by the Olympics, which as an event made up for the disappointment surrounding the World Cup, where a lack of set-top boxes effectively postponed the majority of launches.

Already Eurosport HD has 1.5 million homes, including 500,000 from Sky HD, based on operator reports. “Eurosport is quite a useful marketing tool for operators to promote their offers, it’s a good brand and when you promote Eurosport you’re also promoting the events that are on Eurosport, taking advantage of the Roland Garos, Tour de France and the US Open Tennis.” Augustin says the channel has been stable in the properties that it offers because it was able to offer the same events that were shown on the HD channel. The initial 30% of HD native content will build to 40% during 2009.

A French version of Eurosport HD was launched in December with a greater proportion of HD content because of the coverage given to local events. Its launch benefitted from CanalSat’s own advertising campaign, which featured Eurosport HD in one of its slots.

Augustin believes that the promotion of the HD channel also trickles through to the main international channel that mirrors the HD schedule. “We did a major marketing push in the international press and I remember travelling to Austria with a client and being able to point out an advertisement in the Financial Times.”

Eurosport is one of a handful of brands - CNN, BBC World and Euronews being others - which have been able to attract the international businessman through a presence in hotels. “Eurosport is part of the European playground and when you’re travelling and confronted with many channels, Eurosport is a simple rendezvous when you just have 15 or 30 minutes to spend quietly.”

Augustin says that while there is work to do in hotels, it is important in the development of the brand, adding that the web can work in the same way through the channel’s relationship with Yahoo. “On the web we are present across all sports including those that we don’t always feature on the TV.” It is a strategy that has also been adopted by ESPN, itself a former Eurosport shareholder, through its acquisition of websites covering cricket, football and rugby.

“It is important to be a simple rendezvous for sports in the most convenient way possible, be it on the internet or a PDA in an airport, or when you have more time to watch it on TV.” Augustin acknowledges that the web and TV audiences might represent different communities and that there may be work to be done on bringing them closer together.

Eurosport is also looking at ways to offer multiple feeds on the internet, when the channel has more live content than can be shown on its linear channels.

In the year to September 2008, Eurosport grew its subscriber base by 10.5%, increasing revenues accordingly. “Obviously a number of operators have big ambitions when they discuss with us, some have issues and we work with them, overall the price proposition of Eurosport continues to increase but in a way where we have to be very precise in demonstrating the added value to operators.”